The stairs went down.

Every day I walked by them, and every day they called a little stronger. I tried reasoning myself out of curiosity; they were just maintenance stairs, leading to a closet full of paper towel refills and cleaning supplies. The only reason I never saw anyone on them was that I was never there after hours, when I assumed the custodians roamed.

Until the day I stayed late in my office, the day all the shadows at that spot seemed to point downward, the day I came to the head of the steps and stopped.

The first step was easy, up and over the gate that seemed there to keep out everyone but me. It only got easier after that. I felt the thrill of discovery, of forbidden things, which lasted the twenty-three steps to the bottom. All that was left in the post exploratory funk was to try the municipal door in front of me and I was free to return to my car, adventure impulse quenched. Yet at my touch the door swung freely open and my trepidation was overcome with the joy of discovery. There were more stairs! Against all common sense I plunged forward and down.

My second flight passed quickly as the first, and at its foot I found a third. My joy had coagulated into mania and I sped greedily down. At its foot I found a fourth, and a fifth, and eventually I lost track.

Reservation crept back in, and with it common sense. What practical purpose could a flight of steps so long serve? Why had there been nothing on each landing but the promise of more stairs? Why had I seen no sign of human habitation, no trash, not even a footprint? My steps slowed, then stopped altogether. My joy had evaporated. I had no sense of how long I had been descending, only that it was time to start climbing again. I turned back the way I came.

The stairs went down that way, too.


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